Smokin' Aces wins UK Whisky List of the Year 2017!!
A Little Background
Over the last few years, we have been steadily growing, adapting and tweaking our whisk(e)y selection here at Smokin' Aces. We made the decision to dedicate significantly more backbar space to some absolutely incredible whiskies from all over the world. We are, after all, a whiskey bar!
We had so many difficult decisions to make - as a small bar, space is at a premium and increasing the number of whiskies inevitably meant that many other products had to go. We were absolutely brutal in our decision-making process - the only products you will see in our bar now are those which have survived that aggressive culling process and every single one of those spirits has fully earnt their place. We firmly believe that the entire process has revolutionised the quality of our range and resulted in an offering that we are immensely proud of.
We have worked with many of our favourite brands to ensure that this increase in quality has not resulted in increased prices. We have (and continue to) refuse financially-attractive "bulk deals" because we are passionate about keeping control of our range and offering our customers the highest possible quality across the board - whether that's a 21yo single malt scotch, or a shot of tequila.
So... When last year's inaugural Drinks List of the Year awards were first announced, it's safe to say that we were excited. We toyed with the idea of entering for 2016 but we made the decision to wait a year and spent those 12 months working incredibly hard to develop our range and whisky list into what we hoped was a valid contender on a national level. What happened next blew our minds...
A bit over a month ago (on the 11th September - not that it stuck in our minds or anything), we discovered that we had been placed on the shortlist for the Imbibe UK Whisky List of the Year - we were in the final 7!! To say that we were excited would be a little bit of an understatement. We were delighted that our hard work had been recognised within the industry.
We were invited to attend the awards ceremony in Soho on Monday 16th October (yesterday). A quick scan of the other competitors, both in our category and in the others, revealed the, quite frankly, ridiculously impressive company we would be in.
After a few cocktails and canapés, the awards started. The first category was... 2017 UK Whisky List of the Year. The venues were read out, polite applause occurred. What happened next is, to be perfectly honest, a bit of a blur. To even be in the same room as these other venues was a massive honour. To win it was beyond our wildest dreams. "Smokin' Aces Cocktail Bar & Whiskey Lounge" was read out and we basically lost our minds!
We'd just like to say a HUGE congratulations to Ewan Graham - Bar Manager at Ballygrant Inn on Islay, who came 2nd. Having flown down from Islay the day before, he was the first to come and congratulate us as we were sinking a celebratory drink at the bar afterwards. Pure class!! We'll be coming to see you soon!
"I don't know how this could be any better"
- Michael Butt (Soul Shakers)
"It’s pushing forward the relevance to their market and that’s really good. What appeals to me is that it would get people into the category rather than just keep them there, and for whisky I think that’s really important."
- Joel Harrison (Whisky & Spirits Writer)
"I like that the list is curated. They’ve taken the time to do a job so that it’s easier for the consumer."
- Monica Berg (HIMKOK)
A full summary of the event can be found on the Imbibe website.
Designing the List
Until early this year, we never had ANY kind of list at Smokin' Aces. No cocktail list, no wine list, no whisky list. The lack of cocktail list remains (always will) and is entirely intentional. We create bespoke cocktails for individual customers - it gives our customers the chance to come in and try something genuinely unique - all you have to do is give us an idea of your favourite spirits, the style of drink you would like and we'll shake/stir you up something you will not get anywhere else - you can even name it!
After such a strong focus on improving our range, especially in the whisky category, we felt it was time to produce a list. There were a few reasons for this, which drove us towards a certain style and layout:
First and foremost in our mind when we were designing the list was the wide range of customers that we are lucky enough to welcome through our doors each evening. We absolutely love the fact that we seem to attract such a diverse cross-section of people. Some of our customers visit specifically because of our whisky range, wanting to try something new and challenging. Others are complete whisky newcomers and want something to ease their way into the category. We also welcome plenty of customers who have absolutely no interest in whisky whatsoever. Our challenge was to create a list which would satisfy the hardened whisky drinker, introduce the newcomer and tempt the skeptic!
We also realise that the whisky category can be a bit daunting and even "stuffy" at times. We wanted to create a list which made the products accessible to everyone - from the novice whisky drinker, to the seasoned connoisseur. We tried to strip away the hyperbole and give an honest assessment of each product, complete with tasting suggestions (we don't like the phrase "tasting notes" because it is such a subjective thing). We wanted the list to be laid out in such a way that it was easy to read, with products grouped in a sensible manner (we went for listing by region, with individual whiskies being listed alphabetically within each category).
Another important consideration in the design was that we wanted to give customers the opportunity to learn a little about the different regions, styles of whisky and distilleries. Where possible, we have included a little extra information - it's always nice to know a bit about what you're drinking.
Lastly, honestly, we really wanted to show off ;). We're so proud of what we offer and we really wanted to share this with our customers. We hope that our passion and love of whisky comes across in the list (and our cocktails) and inspires people to try new things. It's always MASSIVELY satisfying to hear "I don't usually like whisky but...". That's why we do this.
Our range is continually evolving and improving. We are constantly on the lookout for new and interesting products. We are dangerously obsessed with trying to source spirits which we think offer superb value - whether that's at £3.50 a measure, or £75 a measure.
We will continue to work hard on our whisky list. We print very small runs of them so that it can be updated regularly. We desperately want our customers to be involved in future updates. We want to hear your wishlists - if there's a product you would love to see, let us know!! We also want to hear your tasting notes and any other comments you might have. We'll credit you when and if they are used in future lists, so please please please do get in touch!!
Credit Where it's Due
Massive thanks go to James Ineson (Matthew Clark), Sean Beaumont (Pernod Ricard), Tom Blay (Cask), Scott Paine (Marussia), Joel Whitmore (Diageo Reserve), Paul Ferguson (Proof) and Sophie Jones (Brown Forman) for all their tireless help, immense patience in the face of some crazy requests, and support.